Arts reporter John Henry Martin has just gotten back from a three-week trip to France. He kept a journal while he was there. Last week, he told us about his costume for the Grand Masked Ball at Versailles. This week, he shows us what it’s like to travel in the first-class cabin of Air France’s A380.
It began with the red carpet. The special line for First Class. When we got to the Air France counter, a woman was waiting and, despite my not being the one who planned this whole thing, she looked at her phone, found me and said, “Welcome, Mr. Martin.”
When the luggage was taken, I noticed they put a dark red flag on the white label on the baggage tags, then affixed yellow flags to the handles of my suitcase that said, “priority.”
I was given my boarding pass in a beautiful red cardboard folder, ensuring that I wouldn’t lose it like I had almost done a hundred times before when it was dispensed by an Orwellian machine anytime I fly United, steerage class.
The woman, whose name was Jen, told me to follow her to the security screening. It was a morass of people, like it always is, but I followed her into the priority lane. She proceeded to unhook the stanchion ribbons and literally bypass the entire line.
Have you ever wanted to do that? When you see the trail of bedraggled travelers, curling back on itself through the terminal? How satisfying would it be to simply unhook one of those ribbons, and cut right in front of everyone? How freeing that would be? Well you can do this. Or, you can have someone do it for you, which is even better. It just costs money. A lot of money.
I still had to take off my shoes and belt and pull my iPad out of my bag, but this was much easier to do when I had been waiting all of three minutes to get to the scanner, rather than 20.
Jen lead me to the Virgin Atlantic Lounge. I asked why not the Air France Lounge, like I did in 2016 the last time I got to do something like this. She told me the Virgin Atlantic one is nicer for the first-class passengers. I didn’t argue.
The Virgin Atlantic Lounge was designed how they thought the future would look in 2005, with curvy wingback chairs, low plastic coffee tables and a wall of different sized TVs that had the landing page of the DVD of a British version of “Peter Pan.” The movie wasn’t playing. I say British because it’s Virgin, a British company, and it didn’t have Robin Williams in it.
I ordered an Orange Peel 21st Amendment lager that was pretty good. 21st Amendment is a local brewery in the SOMA district of San Francisco. The rest of the menu had no prices for the alcohol or the food. A nice perk. Though, given how much your tickets cost, it makes sense that the drinks and food come gratis.
I ordered pork gyozas that came in a bamboo steamer with stainless steel chopsticks and a bowl of soy sauce that was so shallow I could only dip one one hundredth of an inch of the gyoza into it. I ended up eating the gyoza with a fork. Still, it was better than being at a crowded bar in the main terminal.
You have free articles remaining.
Forty-five minutes later, Jen reappeared and said it was time to board. I followed her like she was the pied piper. I felt a little juvenile as I’ve been navigating airports on my own for most of my adult life, until we got to the gate and saw yet another morass of people, huddled, helter skelter, all wondering if it was their time to get in line or not.
Jen simply kept walking, all the way to the front of the line, bypassing everyone. I removed my boarding pass from the beautiful cardboard folder and gave it to her, it was scanned and we were admitted to the jetway, in front of everyone else. We were directed to a side corridor that was usually locked up, but was held open by another attendant. This was the private jetway for the first-class cabin.
The beauty of flying La Premiere is that you are shielded from the rest of the chaos of the airport. Never do you have to fend for yourself. An attendant is always leading you where you need to go. There is even a separate jetway just so the La Premiere passengers don’t have to be in the same jetway as the hoi poloi.
It’s a Danish living room, the first-class cabin of the Air France A380. I am one of nine pods that recline electronically. They are all clad in light brown leather. The cabin is so roomy that in front of each seat is a bench, so that other first class cabinmates can sit in front of you and mingle.
A lovely attendant in a navy suit and red scarf offered me a glass of Champagne. It’s Krug, the most luxurious Champagne on the market. Its long graceful neck outfitted in gold foil has been impressing people for over 150 years. It has a balanced, clean and crisp flavor that is nearly perfect, and very consistent. I accepted it with pleasure.
It was time to go. When the A380 taxis, they turn on a camera on the vertical stabilizer of the airplane so that a view overlooking the fuselage and wingspan of the plane is broadcast for everyone to see. You get a sense for how massive the plane is. There was a palpable air of excitement as we were all glued to the screen.
We taxied through the runways of SFO until we hit the wide expanse of the main runway.
There was a pause, and then the jet engines fired and the plane begins to move. There was a little jostling, and I am careful not to spill the Krug. The plane floated down the runway, like a Lincoln Town Car changing lanes on an interstate. Effortless.
The hills of Brisbane and San Mateo begin became a blur, and then the nose of the plane rose. I was pulled back in my seat and the jostling of the runway gave way to a silent, smooth glide. The plane banked to the right and we ascended into the blue, cloudless Bay Area sky.
Next stop, Paris.
John Henry Martin doesn’t know where his next sip of Krug is going to come from! Whatever will he do? If you have any Krug, and want to share, let him know at email@example.com.